CAPE CANAVERAL, FLORIDA – After a temporary delay due to a “bad amplifier card in a hydraulic accumulator” on the ground, an ULA Atlas V 551 configuration booster rose into the blue Florida sky on its way to deliver the Advanced Extremely High Frequency 6 (AEHF-6) military communications satellite into a geosynchronous transfer orbit. This launch occurred at 4:18 PM EDT from Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral. This is the 11th launch to date of the Atlas V 551 configuration and 83rd Atlas V launch overall.
AEHF-6 is the final satellite in the AHEF series of military communications satellites made by Lockheed Martin. These satellites provide the highest level of protected communications to the US military. This series was designed to replace the MILSTAR series of satellites and each AEHF satellite has a greater capacity than the entire MILSTAR constellation of five satellites combined. Each satellite can provide many “spot” links of area designated for a single user. These links can be used by personnel on the ground, ships and submarines at sea, and their parent commands.
This is the first launch in service to the US Space Force, which was signed into law in December of 2019. The satellite was originally commissioned under a contract for the USAF Space and Missile Systems Center in 2001. All contracts and materiel associated with that command are in the process of being turned over to the new service, a process which should take about 18 months in total.
With this launch ULA continues to show that the “legacy” launch providers still have what it takes to produce successful results time and time again. The Atlas series of rockets are among the most successful launch vehicles in history. The Atlas V series has been in service since 2001, with only a partial failure of a booster in 2007 (a mission that the customer declared a success as the payload was able to make its desired orbit). Atlas V boosters use Russian made RD-180 engines, but they will be phased out in favor of the Blue Origin made BE-4 LOX/methane engines being designed and built for the Vulcan booster, which will replace the Atlas V and the Delta IV boosters from ULA.
All this comes in the shadow of the world-wide pandemic of COVID-19. As social distancing and stay-at-home orders are being placed, the tempo of space launches may take a hit. Many companies are experiencing the effects of the virus, with Bigelow Aerospace announcing laying off their entire staff of 88 over the last two weeks, citing COVID-19 as a primary factor. There will need to be substantial government subsidies for many companies coming out of this pandemic era. Without those subsidies, many companies may not come back from their closures.
In the meantime, we hope you enjoyed the launch from home.